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Frailty


We’re disturbed by things that disrupt our understanding of the world and show the nightcrawlers, bedbugs and worms breeding beneath the floorboards. The true horror is not the alien probing us in the middle of the night, but the strange dark van parked outside our door or the friendly guy down the street who suddenly begins to get a taste for human flesh for no good reason.

Frailty is a mind so close to the edge that every shadow looks like a ghoul and every noise is something eating someone or something it shouldn’t. 

Frailty is also a pretty fine film about the dangers of faith and family in modern America. The movie is like a Shirley Jackson novella or Hitchcock film in that it explores the insanity lurking beneath the bourgeois order. The ordinary man is capable of extraordinary weirdness, especially in America where a man’s home is his castle and insanity is allowed to spread like mold as long as it’s kept secret.

Frailty, directed by Bill Paxton (who also stars in the film), is a striking depiction of the American family turned inside-out, where love, hate, horror and religious bliss collide. Told in an extended flashback, Frailty unviels the twisted little secrets of the Meiks family. Twelve-year-old Fenton (Matthew O'Leary) and nine-year-old Adam (Jeremy Sumpter) are good American kids living in Texas in the late 1970s with their widower father, played by Paxton.

One day dad unexpectedly announces that he has been visited by an angel. This statement has the impact of an asteroid collision for the family, since pop is convinced he must now destroy “demons” who are masquerading as humans. The family is sort of like a group of superheroes, he says happily, and their purpose is to seek out and destroy evil. God will deliver three magic weapons to them and then they’ll start their work.

If your father ever comes to you with a plan like this, please call the cops.

Dad’s revelatory experience divide the family. Adam embraces his father’s vision and accepts that the people he “destroys” are demons whereas Fenton believes his dad is nuts. Unable to see or believe in his father’s religious mission, Fenton is nevertheless drawn into the crimes by his love for his family. The violence intensifies as Fenton tries to come to grips with his faith in god and family.

Much of the terror is psychological, as Fenton graples with the complex issues in front of him. I liked the taunt suspence of the first half of the film, when the possibility that dad might be either mad or visionary is suspended. Like Fenton, we suspect that he might not be in his right mind, but it’s also impossible to totally disreagurd his revelations. Without empirical support for eithr possibility, we tend to believe only what we see, but we’re never quite sure...

The movie has its downfalls. While Paxton’s direction is at times a beautifully horrific display of how benevolent and rational visionary insanity can be, the film’s pace is uneven and plot twists are wholly expected. The flashback device is not entirely satuisfying and the movie is riddled with cliches. Audiences expecting another Sixth Sense won’t be jarred out of their thoughts, and the film’s attempt to be clever falls a bit short from the genre’s predecessors, such as The Rapture.

At times I found the plot almost formulaic. The movie has an egg timer quality to it and as we approach the end we’re not at all shocked to find ourelves shocked, if you know what I mean. It might be a cynical criticism, but I think Frailty might be a bit too well rounded, a bit too seamlessly delivered -- It’s a little like an X-Files or Twilight Zone episode where the last jolt isn’t really jolting at all because it’s so expected.

But Frailty does resonate with an unsettling all-American weirdness that’s hard to shake.

 

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